Afghan Eggplant & Tomato Casserole ♥ (Borani Banjan)

Afghan Eggplant & Tomato Casserole (Borani Banjan) ~ an explosion of tastes and textures and temperatures ~ Low-Carb & Weight Watchers PointsPlus 3 ~ Recipe @ AVeggieVenture.com
graphic button small size size 10 Today's eggplant recipe: An explosion of tastes and textures and temperatures, just eggplant and tomato slices baked in a smoky tomato sauce and topped with a garlicky yogurt-mint sauce. Serve this great summer dish as a side dish or for a Meatless Monday entrée – or maybe like me, to explore Afghan cuisine.
Weight Watchers Friendly, just PointsPlus 3. Low Cal. Low Carb. Gluten Free. Vegetarian. graphic button small size size 10

So. As if there weren't already enough good reasons to belong to a book club. You know, like hanging out with life-long friends talking about books while drinking a nice glass of wine. And now? Discovering Afghan food. WOW.

My book club is a small group of women in our 40s, 50s and now, even 60s. We've been reading together for 21 years! (Here's our book list, for others looking for a great collection of book-club books.) We rarely tie our meal to the book we're reading but for some reason (fate? good luck? I must've done something right?), last month when we read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (he's the author of the wonderful book, The Kite Runner), at the last minute, I decided to try two recipes from Afghanistan.

And it turns out – WOW – both were excellent. I've even made both three times! And both are now on my list of "house recipes". Total keepers! The main dish that night was a dish called Kabeli Palau, it's an Afghan Chicken & Rice Casserole bound together with caramelized onions (I know, I know, what a great concept!) and topped with a gorgeous mix of buttery carrots, currants and almonds. We love it with chicken but also with beef!

But this eggplant? Totally wonderful, an explosion of tastes and textures and temperatures. And the great news is, the two really work together too. So go make this, really.

Cauliflower 'Spanish Rice' ♥ Reader Recipe

Cauliflower 'Spanish Rice', looks and tastes like Spanish rice but it's made with cauliflower ~ low-carb, vegan, gluten-free and for Weight Watchers, PointsPlus 2 ~ @ AVeggieVenture.com
graphic button small size size 10 It looks like Spanish Rice. It tastes like Spanish Rice. But really? It's made with cauliflower and tomatoes, that makes it a low-carb and high-fiber "rice" dish. Yahoo! Weight Watchers PointsPlus 2. graphic button small size size 10

~recipe updated 2015~
~ republished for a little weekend cooking inspiration 2015~
~more recently updated recipes~

When my friend Sally from the Iowa blog Tip of the Iceberg mailed this recipe, she wrote, "I've used this recipe for years and it truly is excellent. I hope you can share it with the world." Verdict? It is truly excellent and Here, World, it is!

It looks like Spanish rice. It tastes like Spanish rice. And yet it's not made with rice, it's made with cauliflower. So it's a perfect choice for people who watch their carb intake for diets or diabetes. And good news, this doesn't taste like "diet food" – it's just plain good! And it looks so beautiful on a plate, too, adding color and texture, very pretty!

PS This isn't the first time I've used cauliflower to "fool" the table. Turns out, cauliflower can taste a lot like mashed potatoes, too, just see these Lighter Mashed "Potatoes" from Kitchen Parade, the recipe which prompted Sally to share hers. Thanks, Sally, your cauliflower "Spanish Rice" is a keeper!

Rhubarb Pudding Cake ♥ Recipe

Rhubarb Pudding Cake @ AVeggieVenture.com ~ serve it warm with a little cream ~ Weight Watchers PointsPlus 5
graphic button small size size 10 Today's sweet treat for some night when dinner's a little skimpy, a warm rhubarb-orange cake, not quite a crumble, not quite a cake, something in between. graphic button small size size 10

So you know those magic pudding cakes, right? They're the ones where you throw together all the usual suspects for cake, but once it's baked, out comes pudding topped with cake. It's as if somebody sneaked some pudding into the bottom of the pan while you weren't looking!

Well, "pudding cake" is the idea here although the "pudding" on the bottom is less pudding and more like a rhubarb sauce without the need to actually cook one. (Although word to the wise, a rhubarb sauce is totally wonderful, here's how I make it, Custard with Rhubarb Sauce. Hmm, dessert tomorrow, methinks.)

This is a rustic cake, but the kind that makes a table turn silent, that is, until there's the clink-clink of spoons scraping out the very last crumbs, sad but satisfied it's gone.

Never Buy Fresh Herbs Again ♥
How to Grow Fresh Herbs at Home in Pots

Never Buy Fresh Herbs Again, how to grow fresh herbs in pots to save money and inspire summer meals @  AVeggieVenture.com
graphic button small size size 10 Pantry with a Purpose: How to grow a few favorite fresh herbs at home, the pots, the soil, the planting. Everything you need to know about growing fresh herbs. It's a great way to save money and inspire summer meals.

~updated 2012 & 2015~
~ republished for a little weekend gardening inspiration 2015~
~more recently updated recipes~

Food prices are skyrocketing with no end in sight. This is the second post tackling the idea of saving money on groceries by – stay with me a minute, it's not entirely intuitive – by cooking more. The idea, you see, is to stop paying crazy-high prices for store-bought by making our own or in this case, growing our own.

Now I know that fresh herbs are a luxury in many households, it's dried or nothing or maybe even nothing. But cooking at home is as much about eating better as eating less expensively. Fresh herbs add life to salads, vegetables, salad dressings, meat dishes, even desserts and drinks.

In my grocery, small, plastic packets of fresh herbs are now $3 for a small bunch. Trader Joe's sells fresh herbs for $2 but to my taste, they're not worth a nickel. Either way, buying just one packet a week adds up to $100 - $150 a year. Instead, I spend maybe $20 on plants, then use them all summer long. So here's my challenge, will you join me? Never Buy Fresh Herbs Again!

Spiral Zucchini Noodle “Zoodle” Greek Salad ♥ Recipe

Spiral Zucchini Noodle Zoodle Greek Salad ~ AVeggieVenture.com
graphic button small size size 10 Today's latest "zoodle" recipe: A Greek salad gone spiral, a big jumble of zucchini noodles, tomatoes and olives tossed in an oil-free Creamy Feta Vinaigrette. It's the salad of the summer, people! And you won't believe that those noodles aren't pasta! Weight Watchers Friendly, WW 2 PointsPlus. Low Cal. Low Carb. Gluten Free. Vegetarian. graphic button small size size 10

So here's a salad – if our tastes are similar, and they are, right? that's why you're reading? – that you'll make all summer long and might even dream about in-between times.

The first time I made the salad, we were rushing out the door, pleased to spend a lazy Saturday with friends basking in late-summer sunshine in the silence of the Missouri countryside. Honestly? I just winged it that day, hapdash-style throwing a few "Greek style" vegetables into a bowl. For the dressing, I went for a tried 'n' true recipe, the Creamy Feta Vinaigrette works so well in a real Greek pasta salad, made with actual pasta, Greek Pasta Salad – except, me being me, always experimenting, always learning, I substituted buttermilk for the usual olive oil, creating an extra-creamy and no-added oil g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s dressing for the vegetables.

That sweet-September day, our friends laid out a lovely spread but oh! the Zucchini Noodle Greek Salad! Lucky, lucky, I'd nailed it the first time, for sure. And our hosts? They couldn't believe that the "noodles" weren't pasta but zucchini! That made for a really full-tasting extra-healthy salad. If that's your taste, well, here's your salad for the summer. I've got a feeling it's mine, too.

Seven-Layer Strawberry Salad with Homemade Poppy Seed Dressing ♥

Seven-Layer Strawberry Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing ~ AVeggieVenture.com
graphic button small size size 10 Today's party salad: A spring riff on the traditional Seven-Layer Salad, layers of strawberries, mangoes, kiwi and avocado plus the traditional romaine and red onion. Not just vegan, "Vegan Done Real". graphic button small size size 10

~ recipe updated & republished for a little weekend cooking inspiration 2015~
~more recently updated recipes~

Everybody loves the Classic Seven Layer Salad, you know, that messy concoction of lettuce, bacon, cheese, bacon, tomato and hard-cooked egg. Wait, is that seven layers? Ooops, add green peas, too.

This is a summer and fruity version of that salad, substituting colorful layers of fresh fruit: strawberries, kiwis and mango plus avocado and toasted walnuts. Seven-Layer Strawberry Salad: the name alone makes me want to mix up another beautiful bowlful!

It was the crowd favorite at a party last week and would make a great contribution to the next potluck or dinner gathering.

Simple Zucchini Ribbon Salad ♥

Simple Zucchini Ribbon Salad ~ ribbons of small, young summer squash tossed in a simple vinaigrette ~ low-carb, low-cal, gluten-free, vegan and for Weight Watchers, just PointsPlus 2 ~ AVeggieVenture.com
graphic button small size size 10 A simple-simple zucchini salad, just thin-sliced ribbons of young, small summer squash tossed in a simple vinaigrette and dusted with parmesan. WW 2 PointsPlus. Low Cal. Low Carb. Gluten Free. Not just vegan, "Vegan Done Real". graphic button small size size 10

Are you noticing, too? It's just spring here in Missouri, but I can tell, It's summer, somewhere. That's because the vegetables, even at the grocery store, are so sweet and perfect, miracle of miracles emerging somewhere from the earth. And small! You can tell, these were picked young. Usually, we must wait for vegetables like this until July or August, either from our own garden or the farmers market. But for a short window, the grocery store's produce department is a vegetable lover's heaven.